Yoga is more than just asana, and that’s why I make an effort to read yoga books and watch yoga movies to deepen my knowledge about the rich cultures of this practice. For a while now, I’ve been curious to learn more about the philosophy and practices of Tantra yoga.
So I know what you’re thinking. Tantra yoga = sex. Bendy, esoteric, mind-blowing sex that lasts for hours. Well, maybe. But there is a lot more to tantric yoga than just sex, in fact, you can practice Tantra yoga and not even dip your toe in the sexual aspects. You can weave elements of Tantra into your daily yoga practice or even everyday life. There is nothing wrong with exploring your sexual nature (trust me, I’ve been on my own journey of sexual liberation), but the traditions, practices, and philosophies of Tantra are concerned with much more than just improving your sex life.
Tantra is really about a journey of self-realization and truth that comes from tapping into your own energy, be that sexual or otherwise.
What is Tantra Yoga?
Tantra is a system that helps you cultivate a deep connection to yourself by connecting and working with your own energy. Traditionally, this can lead you to spiritual enlightenment, but nowadays this is rarely the end goal, and instead, tantric yoga practices emphasize a greater sense of inner wellbeing.
Tantra practices are rooted in rituals. These rituals include yoga practices but also encompass ceremonies, daily observances, astrology, and much more. Tantra yoga practices consist of asana (yoga poses), breathing exercises (pranayama), meditation, mudras (hand gestures), mantra and chanting, and working with the chakras, prana (the yogic word for energy), and energetic body.
In terms of Tantra yoga poses, instead of emphasizing physical alignment or progression, such as with Ashtanga, the poses are used to help you find a connection to your energetic self. In time, the focus is on understanding the connection between the self, the universe and all beings, as everything consists of energy. The Sanskrit word yoga means union or oneness, and Tantra is about experiencing that oneness through energetics.
The History of Tantra
Yoga originated in the Indus Valley Civilisation (modern-day northern India and Pakistan) over 5,000 years ago. It’s always been difficult to date yoga precisely as not only have many original yoga scriptures been lost, but it was primarily an oral tradition, where the practices were shared verbally.
This is true of Tantra too, and therefore, there is some debate about how old it actually is. However, it is generally accepted that the rituals, ideas, and practices formally associated with Tantra were popularized between the 6th and 13th centuries CE. At this time there was an emphasis on using visualizations to engage with the energetic body, and a number of secret and taboo rituals, including some sexual ones. There also emerged a series of scriptures called Tantras containing the doctrines and practices of Tantra.
Many different traditions in this region used the principles of Tantra, and this is why you find Tantra practices and specific scriptures associated with schools of Hinduism and Buddhism. The ones affiliated with contemporary yoga have generally emerged from the Hindu tradition.
An important energetic aspect popularized in the Tantric tradition, and one which still endures to this day, was Kundalini. Kundalini is the name of a goddess visualized as a serpent coiled around the base of the spine. Through meditations and visualizations, the intention was to awaken the Kundalini energy and draw it up through the chakras to the crown of the head.
Although sexual practices may have been a part of these earlier traditions, the strong association between Tantra and esoteric sexual practices actually had its roots in colonialism in India. Tantric ideas were appropriated by Westerners and sold to Western audiences with a wholly sexual emphasis. These ideas are sometimes referred to as Neo-Tantra, and it’s important to acknowledge that they are largely a New Age Western invention, although they draw on some traditional Tantric texts. If you are interested in practicing Tantra that aligns with its authentic lineage, it is important to reclaim tantric practices from a narrative steeped solely in mystical sex.
Etymology of Tantra
The Sanskrit word Tantra means ‘weave’ or ‘loom’. However, it later came to mean a system or practice, in line with tantric techniques.
Tantra Yoga Today
Contemporary Tantra is pretty diverse in part because of its varied origins. However, there is always a strong emphasis on connecting with yourself energetically to foster greater well-being.
A Tantra yoga class today will often consist of slower-paced Hatha style yoga asana. There is a strong emphasis on the energetic body, also called the subtle body, and working with chakras and the energetic networks of the body, often through meditation and visualizations. There may be specific Tantra sequences, consisting of, solely, or a combination of, physical movements, pranayama, mantras, and visualizations focusing on activating specific energetic centres of the body.
Tantra yoga practices are frequently interwoven into other more dynamic styles of yoga. For example, if you use visualizations or chakra meditations in a Vinyasa yoga class, this is drawing from tantric practices.
Kundalini yoga is a popular contemporary style of yoga, developed by Indian-American practitioner Yogi Bhajan in the 1960s, which weaves together the energetic aspects of Kundalini Tantra yoga, elements of Sikhism, and yoga principles found in Patanjali’s yoga sutras.
Some contemporary Tantra yoga schools and practitioners emphasize sexual practices and fostering a greater sexual connection with yourself and your partner(s). There are certainly some great and authentic teachers out there, but remember that the sexual element should be just one methodology for cultivating an energetic connection with yourself and the universe. Revelations of sexual abuse within yoga schools have been coming thick and fast in the last few years, and more than a few of these, such as Anusara Yoga and Agama Yoga, were grounded in Tantric philosophy and practices.
Tantra Yoga Benefits
- Help you to connect to more spiritual aspects of yoga.
- Encourages you to foster a deeper and more joyous connection with yourself and different aspects of your body.
- Help you connect more deeply with yourself sexually as well as intimate partners.
- All the benefits of working with the body, breath, and mind but without feeling the pressures of physical achievement.
- A focus on meditations, pranayama and chanting, as well as asana
Tantra Yoga Practices
Here’s a brief breakdown of some Tantra yoga practices and what you can expect from a Tantra yoga class.
Tantra Yoga Asana
Tantra yoga poses tend to be more traditional Hatha yoga poses, held for longer periods, such as Bhujangasana, Trikonasana, and inversions such as headstand, shoulder stand, and plough pose. Some Tantra sequences include sun salutations, but not all of them. Often there isn’t an emphasis on alignment, instead, you are encouraged to notice the energetic effects in the body, or asana is treated as a way to open the body up for a smoother flow of prana.
Partner yoga, especially poses such as partner seated Sukhasana, which allows you to tune into and connect to your partner’s energy, can also be a great tantric practice.
Tantra Yoga Pranayama, Kriyas, and Bandhas
Pranayama practices such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) to purify the energetic channels of the body, Kapalabhati (breath of fire) to energize the body, and Brahmari (humming bee breath) for mental calm and to cleanse the mind, are often a part of Tantra.
Kriyas (not to be confused with Kriya Yoga), in the sense of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, are cleansing practices to help cultivate prana. In Kundalini yoga, a kriya is a sequence of movements, sounds, and breathwork with a specific intention or energetic outcome.
Bandhas, the energetic locks of the body, are often a feature of Tantra yoga pranayama practices. The most common bandhas are Mula banda at the pelvic floor, Uddiyana bandha at the navel, and Jalandhara bandha at the throat. By engaging these locks it allows you to hold or control the flow of prana.
Meditation in Tantra primarily consists of visualizations through the body’s main seven chakras in order to balance and clear these energy centres. The balancing of the chakras then enables a clear pathway for the rising of Kundalini energy from the base of the spine through the crown of the head.
Other Tantra Yoga Practices
Chanting, repeating mantras either out loud or silently, and practices such as Yoga Nidra are also common features of Tantra yoga. If you attend a class the teacher may well share some of the underpinning philosophy of their lineage of Tantra.
Where to Practice Tantra Yoga
Have a look at your studio or online for Tantra yoga classes. There may also be a specialized Tantra school in your home town.
One of the easiest ways to practice Tantra is by attending a Kundalini class, as Kundalini is a popular style of yoga. Although Kundalini has its own take on Tantra, the principles of working with the energetic aspects of the body are emphasized in Kundalini yoga.
Another option is attending a Tantra retreat or a Tantra yoga training!
Best Tantra Retreat Recommendations
This popular retreat for gay and queer men is a welcoming space to explore different yoga practices using tantric principles to help foster a greater sense of your sensual and sexual self.
This deeply nurturing retreat promises to leave you restored and energetically balanced, with daily mindfulness, yoga Nidra, and Kundalini inspired Tantra practices. Surrounded by the countryside, just a few kilometres from the beach, and organic vegetarian and vegan meals, this retreat really does have everything to take care of your body, mind, and soul.
Best Tantra Yoga Training Recommendations
This two week, 200-hour yoga teacher training steeped in the Kashmir Shaivism Tantra tradition promises to not only teach you the fundamental philosophies, practices, and meditations of this tantric tradition but also enable you to teach asana in a way that aligns with these principles. The location of this all-around transformative training is a valley in the Andes mountain range and culminates with a visit to Machu Picchu.
Not only does this six week, 300-hour Tantra yoga training immerse you in multiple tantric practices and philosophies, but it also grounds you in the Shamanism and Andean Cosmovision of native Ecuador where this training takes place. This training has a diverse and experienced teaching faculty and is held in a sustainable Ashram retreat centre, so you can nurture your inner-wellbeing and forge a community with like-minded people, as you prepare to share what you have been taught with others.
If you are looking for a deep immersion in Tantra in the birthplace of yoga, it doesn’t get much better than this two month 500-hour Advanced teacher training in Kundalini Tantra in Northern India. By the end of the training you will be an experienced Kundalini Tantra teacher, in the traditions of Yogi Bhajan and traditional Kundalini Tantra, whilst also equipped with sound healing and Reiki fundamentals. There are opportunities to further steep yourself in the practices of this culture with Ayurvedic treatments, daily cleanses, and Astrology consultations, as well as trips to temples and meditation on the banks of the Ganges.
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